The Dead Republic: A Novel
by Roddy Doyle
Much of The Dead Republic, the final book in Roddy Doyle's trilogy about the fictional Henry Smart, is about clashing visions of Ireland. As a young man, Smart was a foot soldier in the Irish war for independence and the manager of a young Louis Armstrong in New York City. Now, he's working for the famous American movie director John Ford, who decides to make a movie about Ireland after World War II, The Quiet Man. Though Ford promises Henry that the film will tell the story of Henry's life with the Irish Republican Army, it becomes a love letter to rural Ireland, much to Henry's disgust. When Henry becomes involved in the IRA uprising more than 20 years later, an IRA man tells Henry that the war was always about who got to hold the copyright on what it means to be Irish. Or as Doyle tells Lynn Neary, "In the '50s, '60s, '70s — when Ireland was kind of an economic backwater, we had to kowtow to a notion of what Ireland was in the hopes that tourists would arrive."
336 pages, $16, Penguin Books
Hellhound On His Trail :The Electrifying Account Of The Largest Manhunt In American History
by Hampton Sides
Hampton Sides' Hellhound on His Trail weaves together the stories of James Earl Ray and Martin Luther King Jr., painting a picture of both men and tracking their movements in the period leading up to King's murder in 1968 and the massive manhunt that led to Ray's capture. The son of a lawyer who represented King as he took up the cause of striking Memphis garbage workers, Sides' account brings scores of perspectives together in a retelling that lets us see King and his associates, the FBI, Scotland Yard and even operatives of the Canadian Mounted Police travel their separate routes in the same maelstrom. Sides' Memphis roots give a fresh context to the story, and his own great literary gifts bring urgency and intrigue to his narrative, even as the end is known.
480 pages, $15.95, Anchor Books
Ill Fares The Land
by Tony Judt
Based on a lecture that historian Tony Judt gave at New York University, where he taught until his death last year, Ill Fares the Land critiques what Judt calls the "deteriorating social contract" in the U.S. and Europe. "The materialistic and selfish quality of contemporary life is not inherent in the human condition," Judt writes. Much of what appears "natural" today dates from the 1980s: the obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization and the private sector, the growing disparities between rich and poor. Judt says he wrote the book to help young people make sense of the many changes in the world. "It's about not forgetting the past. About having the courage to look at the present and see its faults without walking away in disgust or skepticism. ... I do think we're on the edge of a terrifying world, and that many young people know that but don't know how to talk about it."
256 pages, $15, Penguin Books
Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, And The Greatest Race The World Has Ever Seen
by Christopher McDougall
The simple question of why most American runners suffer injuries despite expensive sneakers brings Christopher McDougall to the unforgiving terrain of Mexico's Copper Canyons, home to an indigenous population of ultra-runners, the Tarahumara Indians. Eating a diet of ground corn, mouse meat and homemade alcohol — and sleeping no regular hours — the Tarahumara men and woman suffer illness and somehow find the endurance to run cliffside races topping 100 miles and sometimes lasting two days. Pulling the reader with him through sun-crisped canyons and crushing our faith in Nike, McDougall recounts his quest to understand these near superhuman ultra-runners with adrenaline-pumped writing, humor and a distinct voice, never letting go from his impassioned mantra that humans were born to run.
304 pages, $15.95, Vintage Books
The Secret Life Of The Grown-Up Brain: The Surprising Talents Of The Middle-Aged Mind
by Barbara Strauch
As the health and medical science editor at The New York Times, Barbara Strauch can spot good research and new ideas. The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain is full of both. No depressing documentation of memory loss here. Strauch focuses on what middle-aged brains can do better than younger brains — most important, synthesize and use information, and see things more broadly. She tells her story in a very accessible way, through anecdotes of discovery and profiles of brain scientists. At the end of the book, there's advice — but no guarantees — on how to keep your brain in good shape. And for any people (including teenagers) who doubt the middle-aged brain is all that great, Strauch includes 20 pages of scientific citations at the end.
256 pages, $16, Penguin Books
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also leads a weekly chat on books and reading in the digital age every Friday from 4-5 p.m. ET on Twitter. Follow her at @charabbott or check out the #followreader hashtag .
To live with ghosts requires solitude.
— Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces
For days, I'd been searching Mexico's Sierra Madre for the phantom known as Caballo Blanco — the White Horse. I'd finally arrived at the end of the trail, in the last place I expected to find him — not deep in the wilderness he was said to haunt, but in the dim lobby of an old hotel on the edge of a dusty desert town. "Si, El Caballo esta," the desk clerk said, nodding. Yes, the Horse is here.
"For real?" After hearing that I'd just missed him so many times, in so many bizarre locations, I'd begun to suspect that Caballo Blanco was nothing more than a fairy tale, a local Loch Ness monstruo dreamed up to spook the kids and fool gullible gringos.
"He's always back by five," the clerk added. "It's like a ritual." I didn't know whether to hug her in relief or high-five her in triumph. I checked my watch. That meant I'd actually lay eyes on the ghost in less than . . . hang on.
"But it's already after six."
The clerk shrugged. "Maybe he's gone away."
I sagged into an ancient sofa. I was filthy, famished, and defeated. I was exhausted, and so were my leads.
Some said Caballo Blanco was a fugitive; others heard he was a boxer who'd run off to punish himself after beating a man to death in the ring. No one knew his name, or age, or where he was from. He was like some Old West gunslinger whose only traces were tall tales and a whiff of cigarillo smoke. Descriptions and sightings were all over the map; villagers who lived impossible distances apart swore they'd seen him traveling on foot on the same day, and described him on a scale that swung wildly from "funny and simpatico" to "freaky and gigantic."
But in all versions of the Caballo Blanco legend, certain basic details were always the same: He'd come to Mexico years ago and trekked deep into the wild, impenetrable Barrancas del Cobre — the Copper Canyons — to live among the Tarahumara, a near- mythical tribe of Stone Age superathletes. The Tarahumara (pronounced Spanish- style by swallowing the "h": Tara- oo- mara) may be the healthiest and most serene people on earth, and the greatest runners of all time.
When it comes to ultradistances, nothing can beat a Tarahumara runner — not a racehorse, not a cheetah, not an Olympic marathoner. Very few outsiders have ever seen the Tarahumara in action, but amazing stories of their superhuman toughness and tranquillity have drifted out of the canyons for centuries. One explorer swore he saw a Tarahumara catch a deer with his bare hands, chasing the bounding animal until it finally dropped dead from exhaustion, "its hoofs falling off." Another adventurer spent ten hours climbing up and over a Copper Canyon mountain by mule; a Tarahumara runner made the same trip in ninety minutes.
"Try this," a Tarahumara woman once told an exhausted explorer who'd collapsed at the base of a mountain. She handed him a gourd full of a murky liquid. He swallowed a few gulps, and was amazed to feel new energy pulsing in his veins. He got to his feet and scaled the peak like an overcaffeinated Sherpa. The Tarahumara, the explorer would later report, also guarded the recipe to a special energy food that leaves them trim, powerful, and unstoppable: a few mouthfuls packed enough nutritional punch to let them run all day without rest.
But whatever secrets the Tarahumara are hiding, they've hidden them well. To this day, the Tarahumara live in the side of cliffs higher than a hawk's nest in a land few have ever seen. The Barrancas are a lost world in the most remote wilderness in North America, a sort of a shorebound Bermuda Triangle known for swallowing the misfits and desperadoes who stray inside. Lots of bad things can happen down there, and probably will; survive the man-eating jaguars, deadly snakes, and blistering heat, and you've still got to deal with "canyon fever," a potentially fatal freak-out brought on by the Barrancas' desolate eeriness. The deeper you penetrate into the Barrancas, the more it feels like a crypt sliding shut around you. The walls tighten, shadows spread, phantom echoes whisper; every route out seems to end in sheer rock. Lost prospectors would be gripped by such madness and despair, they'd slash their own throats or hurl themselves off cliffs. Little surprise that few strangers have ever seen the Tarahumara's homeland — let alone the Tarahumara.
But somehow the White Horse had made his way to the depths of the Barrancas. And there, it's said, he was adopted by the Tarahumara as a friend and kindred spirit; a ghost among ghosts. He'd certainly mastered two Tarahumara skills — invisibility and extraordinary endurance — because even though he was spotted all over the canyons, no one seemed to know where he lived or when he might appear next. If anyone could translate the ancient secrets of the Tarahumara, I was told, it was this lone wanderer of the High Sierras.
I'd become so obsessed with finding Caballo Blanco that as I dozed on the hotel sofa, I could even imagine the sound of his voice. "Probably like Yogi Bear ordering burritos at Taco Bell," I mused. A guy like that, a wanderer who'd go anywhere but fit in nowhere, must live inside his own head and rarely hear his own voice. He'd make weird jokes and crack himself up. He'd have a booming laugh and atrocious Spanish. He'd be loud and chatty and . . . and . . .
Wait. I was hearing him. My eyes popped open to see a dusty cadaver in a tattered straw hat bantering with the desk clerk. Trail dust streaked his gaunt face like fading war paint, and the shocks of sun- bleached hair sticking out from under the hat could have been trimmed with a hunting knife. He looked like a castaway on a desert island, even to the way he seemed hungry for conversation with the bored clerk.
"Caballo?" I croaked.
The cadaver turned, smiling, and I felt like an idiot. He didn't look wary; he looked confused, as any tourist would when confronted by a deranged man on a sofa suddenly hollering "Horse!"
This wasn't Caballo. There was no Caballo. The whole thing was a hoax, and I'd fallen for it.
Then the cadaver spoke. "You know me?"
"Man!" I exploded, scrambling to my feet. "Am I glad to see you!"
The smile vanished. The cadaver's eyes darted toward the door, making it clear that in another second, he would as well.
. . .
It all began with a simple question that no one in the world could answer.
That five-word puzzle led me to a photo of a very fast man in a very short skirt, and from there it only got stranger. Soon, I was dealing with a murder, drug guerrillas and a one-armed man with a cream-cheese cup strapped to his head. I met a beautiful, blonde forest ranger who slipped out of her clothes and found salvation by running naked in the Idaho forests, and a young surf babe in pigtails who ran straight toward her death in the desert. A talented young runner would die. Two others would barely escape with their lives.
I kept looking, and stumbled across the Barefoot Batman ... Naked Guy Kalahari Bushmen ... the Toenail Amputee... a cult devoted to distance running and sex parties ... the Wild Man of the Blue Ridge Mountains ... and ultimately, the ancient tribe of the Tarahumara and their shadowy disciple, Caballo Blanco.
In the end, I got my answer, but only after I found myself in the middle of the greatest race the world would never see: the Ultimate Fighting Competition of footraces, an underground showdown pitting some of the best ultra-distance runners of our time against the best ultrarunners of all time, in a 50-mile race on hidden trails only Tarahumara feet had ever touched. I'd be startled to discover that the ancient saying of the Tao Te Ching — "The best runner leaves no trace" — wasn't some gossamer koan, but real, concrete, how-to, training advice.
And all because in January, 2001, I asked my doctor this:
"How come my foot hurts?"
I'd gone to see one of the top sports-medicine specialists in the country because an invisible ice-pick was driving straight up through the sole of my foot. The week before, I'd been out for an easy, three-mile jog on a snowy farm road when I suddenly whinnied in pain, grabbing my right foot and screaming curses as I toppled over in the snow. When I got a grip on myself, I checked to see how badly I was bleeding. I must have impaled my foot on a sharp rock, I figured, or an old nail wedged in the ice. But there wasn't a drop of blood, or even a hole in my shoe.
"Running is your problem," Dr. Joe Torg confirmed when I limped into his Philadelphia examining room a few days later. He should know; Dr. Torg had not only helped create the entire field of sports medicine, but he also co-authored The Running Athlete, the definitive radiographic analysis of every conceivable running injury. He ran me through an X-Ray and watched me hobble around, then determined I'd aggravated my cuboid, a cluster of bones parallel to the arch which I hadn't even known existed until it re-engineered itself into an internal Taser.
"But I'm barely running at all," I said. "I'm doing, like, two or three miles every other day. And not even on asphalt. Mostly dirt roads."
Didn't matter. "The human body is not designed for that kind of abuse," Dr. Torg replied.
But why? Antelope don't get shin splints. Wolves don't ice-pack their knees. I doubt that 80% of all wild mustangs are annually disabled with impact injuries. It reminded me of a proverb attributed to Roger Bannister, who, while simultaneously studying medicine, working as a clinical researcher and minting pithy parables, became the first man to break the 4-minute mile: "Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up," Bannister said. "It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or a gazelle — when the sun comes up, you'd better be running."
So why should every other mammal on the planet be able to depend on its legs except us? Come to think of it, how could a guy like Bannister charge out of the lab every day, pound around a hard cinder track in thin leather slippers, and not only get faster, but never get hurt? How come some of us can be out there running all lion-like and Bannister-ish every morning when the sun comes up, while the rest of us need a fistful of Ibuprofen before we can put our feet on the floor?
But maybe there was a path back in time, a way to flip the internal switch that changes us all back into the Natural Born Runners we once were. Not just in history, but in our own lifetimes. Remember? Back when you were a kid and you had to be yelled at to slow down? Every game you played, you played at top-speed, sprinting like crazy as you kicked cans, freed-all and attacked jungle outposts in your neighbors' backyards. Half the fun of doing anything was doing it at record pace, making it probably the last time in your life you'd ever be hassled for going too fast.
That was the real secret of the Tarahumara: they'd never forgotten what it felt like to love running. They remembered that running was mankind's first fine art, our original act of inspired creation. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle — behold, the Running Man.
Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn't live to love anything else. And like everything else we love — everything we sentimentally call our "passions" and "desires" — it's really an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run; we were born because we run. We're all Running People, as the Tarahumara have always known. Soon, I was setting off in search of the lost tribe of the Tarahumara and Caballo Blanco — who, I would discover, had a secret mission of his own.
Excerpted from Born to Run by Christopher McDougall Copyright 2009 by Christopher McDougall. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.